The candid street photography of Helen Levitt

Born in Bensonhurst in 1913, Helen Levitt spent seven decades capturing images of poor and working-class New Yorkers going about life’s unheralded rituals—working, eating, and observing.

And in the case of children, playing. “Levitt’s photographs of Harlem and the Lower East Side, primarily from the late 1930s through mid-1940s, were among the first to expose the inner lives of children, worlds that had only recently surfaced in American art through the spread of psychoanalysis and surrealism,” wrote Richard B. Woodward in the Wall Street Journal in 2009, shortly after her death.

“Her boys and girls immerse themselves in their roles as gangster, diva, street-corner dandy, wise guy, or holy terror with utter conviction.”

In later decades, Levitt worked in color, creating perceptive and tender portraits of ordinary people against the backdrop of a city in decline.

Publicity shy and notorious for rarely giving interviews, she lived alone in a walkup near Union Square for almost 50 years, until she died at age 95.

Her street-theater photos of New York caught off guard have been collected in many books, including the magical Slide Show, published in 2005.

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4 Responses to “The candid street photography of Helen Levitt”

  1. Nabe News: March 9 - Bowery Boogie Says:

    […] Helen Levitt captured candid downtown street scenes for seven decades.  Her work on the Lower East Side and Harlem helped expose the inner lives of children.  She […]

  2. ICEPIN Says:

    Helen, I Love it…

  3. Wendy Says:

    Affectionate portraits of a largely vanished New York. What a treat for the senses!

  4. Jackie Says:

    That one of the phone booth reminds me of shopping with my Nana (grandmother) on the streets of Brooklyn in the 80’s.

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